Category: Teen

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (9780373212316, Amazon)

Elloren has led a sheltered life with her uncle, making violins and creating cures out of herbs. Now she is being sent to university, something her powerful aunt doesn’t agree with. Her aunt attempts to have her paired with a seductive young man who seems eager as well, but Elloren has promised her uncle not to wandfast until after she graduates. At university, Elloren is exposed to more other races than ever before, including lupines, elves, and some hidden Fae. In an attempt to force Elloren to marry, her aunt has set up the worst possible quarters for her, sharing a room in a drafty cold tower with two Icarals, born with wings and considered to be cursed. Elloren slowly learns of her own biases and racism as the book continues, figuring out that her upbringing has been slanted and that her own history may be questionable.

I must address that this book was the subject of a huge situation at GoodReads where its star score is still low because people saw the book as racist. While colors of skin do play a role in the book, this book is all about a sheltered girl with a heritage that is filled with glory and blood figuring out that she is entirely and unquestionably wrong. The book made sure not to leave statements of Elloren’s bias on the page without a counterpart and does exceptionally well at having other perspectives always presented. There are no simple answers here, since Forest has created a complicated and intricate world that bears little resemblance to our own.

Forest’s characters are entirely flawed and that makes the book so much better. Elloren may or may not be the next Black Witch. Readers will know there is a well of untapped power within her and see clues about it. They will also be infuriated by Elloren at times, as she flirts with a man who is clearly dangerous and using her. Elloren grows at a natural pace, her perspectives shifting with research, lectures, and personal experience. There is a lot magical about this fantasy novel, but her growth remains steady and understandably human-like.

A strong book in a new series of magic, dragons and legendary creatures, this book is unafraid to ask deep questions about morals, ethics and bias. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (9780425288504, Amazon)

Felix’s life changed when he was caught in an accident in his father’s lab at three years old. A fourth dimensional being named Zyx was fused inside him. Now the time is coming when Felix and Zyx have to be separated or they will both die. Felix begins a secret blog where he shares his experiences of being fused with Zyx and the days leading up to the Procedure. There are details about normal things like his family, bullies at school, and his crush on a cute boy at school. Then there are the Zyx related aspects that draw Felix to the beauty of jazz music and immensely gifted chess playing. Even as Felix hopes to be able to fix the physical manifestations and pain brought by being with Zyx, he wonders about what his life will be like without him and if they will both potentially die as they are separated.

Bunker has created an exceptional book for middle grade readers. She has seeped it full of diversity of the LGBT community. Felix himself is gay, his mother is bisexual and his grandparent is gender queer. The beauty is that this is not the focus of the novel, just background information, a matter-of-fact look at what openly queer families can be.

The real focus of the book is Felix himself, caught in a unique situation that makes him the target of bullies. He still connects with others, his crush on a boy growing with natural pacing. He speaks in a voice that is witty and rich, his writing filled with small details of his life but also with humor. There is a sense of an impending ending but also the slim possibility of a future as well that keeps this book steeped in the small wonders of life but also immensely hopeful.

A dynamic mix of LGBT, science fiction and growing up, this novel is entirely unique just like its main character. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

 

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9780062393548, Amazon)

Released June 13, 2017.

This is a novel told in three different time periods, each featuring a woman finding love and yearning for change. There is Adri from the year 2065, who has been selected to live on Mars. She is aloof and prickly and spends her last weeks on Earth with her sole surviving relative, an older woman she has never met. Adri discovers the letters of the other women and is soon drawn into their lives and the mysteries of what happened to them. Catherine lives in 1934 in the midst of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the midst of dust storms, she manages to fall in love and then has to decide whether to stay with her mother on their deteriorating farm or leave and take chances in a large city. Lenore lives in England in 1919, recovering from the loss of her brother in World War I. She meets a scarred young man who is living in an abandoned house on her family’s estate and isn’t sure what parts of his story are true.

The stories of these three characters are vivid and remarkable. Adri’s story is told in prose while the others are done in letters. The book folds out into a series of letters, origami-like and wondrous. Anderson cleverly creates a point in the book where one isn’t sure if the ending of the women’s stories will be fully revealed or not. It creates a breathtaking moment of mystery and inconclusiveness that adds to the already appealing story. Throughout, Anderson demonstrates her skilled writing and gorgeous prose that is full of emotion and possibilities.

The three female characters whose stories are told in the novel are vastly different from one another and yet the stories nest together into one complete whole. While they are distinct and unique women, the stories all speak to their tenacity, deep caring and independence. Even as they make critical decisions in the midst of impossible situations, there is a sense of community and connection that weaves throughout the novel, showing that we are all stronger together.

Engrossing, intelligent and incredibly rich, this novel for teens is truly exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (9781419724848, Amazon)

Neverfell was discovered as a child in the depths of Grandible’s cheese caverns. She had no memory of where she came from and for the next seven years spent her time solely with Grandible who insisted that if they did have a rare visitor that she cover her face. Neverfell knew she was hideous in some way, so she complied. Then one day, she discovered a way out of Grandible’s caverns and into the larger world of Caverna, a subterranean city whose wealth came from the magical items that could be produced there, like Grandible’s cheeses, perfumes that would make you irresistible and wines that could alter memory. Neverfell found herself in a world of people with faces that were taught and learned and that did not express the emotions they were feeling. Neverfell’s own face though did not do that, her expressions shifted with her feelings, something that made her unique and valuable, but also a threat.

This book was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2013 and has finally made its way to the United States. A new book from Hardinge is always a treat with her impressive world building and immense creativity. Entering Caverna is an adventure and the details and wonders found inside are wildly inventive and amazing. There is an intense richness to the writing, one that serves to suck you deep into the caverns and not want to emerge again for a long time. Hardinge mixes so many elements here that it’s amazing that it continues to be a story that not only makes sense but is entirely riveting.

Neverfell is an incredible protagonist and unique in the story. Still it is the world building here that kept my attention throughout the book. From the dark corners of cheesemaking to the green satin of the wealthy of society, from the menace of a master thief to the dominion of those who will retain power at all costs. From the insanity of the man who will not sleep to the slavery of the drudges. It is so complicated and so incredibly well done.

A masterpiece of fantasy writing, this book is rather like the True Delicacies of the novel, something that may change your life forever. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Blood Family by Anne Fine

Blood Family by Anne Fine

Blood Family by Anne Fine (9781481477734, Amazon)

At age seven, Edward was saved from his abusive stepfather, Harris, when a neighbor saw him peeking out of their apartment through a boarded-up window. He had been shut in with his mother for three years, unable to leave. The only glimpse of the real world that he had was through a series of videotapes that the previous resident had left behind. Thanks to those videos, he was able to learn about the world and mentally escape the horror of his life. After he is rescued, Edward struggles to adapt to real life. He is smart and fascinated by everything, but his peers realize how different he is. When Edward becomes a teenager, he is suddenly confronted by the idea that Harris might be his real father after all. Is there a monster waiting inside him to break free?

Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this novel is heartrendingly realistic.  The book is told in many voices. They include Edward himself and also the adults around him from the social worker who first rescues him from the apartment to the couple who foster him to the family that adopts him and his adopted sister. This is necessary as Edward begins to spiral out of control, so that readers can still view him clearly and better understand the hidden impacts and scars that his tortured upbringing have left on him.

Edward is a strong and interesting protagonist who is vastly human and easy to relate to. Fine uses the videos of a Mr. Rogers like figure to explain how Edward’s mind survived intact. As Edward seems completely fine much of the time, it is his fall into darkness that makes the book believable and allows readers to more fully understand the deep despair that has been lapping at him all along. Fine’s writing allows us hope for Edward’s future, then takes that away, only to restore it once again, showing that all of us have the potential to lose ourselves and find ourselves over and over again.

A powerful read that will be popular with those teens who like A Child Called It. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (9780062473042, Amazon)

This debut novel combines magical realism with the hard streets of modern Detroit. Fabiola and her mother are journeying to live with family in Detroit, leaving their native Haiti behind. But while Fabiola is allowed to continue on to Detroit, her mother is held in a detention center due to issues with her papers. Now Fabiola must get used to living with her American relatives, including three cousins who are loud, fierce and not to be messed with. Fabiola struggles with the food, the culture, and getting used to a new life and school while worrying about her mother. Just as it seems that she is finding a way forward with a new boyfriend and new friends, the dangerous life that supports her family comes crashing down threatening to sweep Fabiola along with it.

Zoboi’s writing is exceptional. She has drawn on her own experience as an immigrant from Haiti in this novel, infusing it with vodou religion and spirits that both guide and haunt. As Fabiola follows the spirits to the truth about what is really happening, she risks everything that she has found to hold onto and love. This is a book that doesn’t turn away from the violence of Detroit, the guns, drugs and power struggles happening even as children die.

There are many moments in this book that a situation is so fraught with danger that it sears into the reader’s brain. Against those moments, Fabiola and her three cousins stand strong and tall. They are four amazing characters who shine on the page each so different from one another and ferociously both independent and interdependent at the same time. This is family on the page, pushing against the dangers that surround them and include them.

Beautifully written with strong characters and danger, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.